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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

Why Play Live?

Posted by Meleagar Monday July 20 2009 at 11:04AM
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I've outlined a couple of fundamental to a different kind of MMO - the character development strategy game.  The first principle is a 24/7 experience system which levels the playing field between casuals and powergamers and offers the customer a sense that they are getting full value for their subscription buck; and the full linear and lateral availability of all character development avenues to all characters. Players will be able to spend their steadily-accruing experience in any line of character development.  This development system also kills any chance for a balanced "end game", pvp, solo or grouping combat system.

Now the question is, why actually play the game? What is going to appeal to you to actually log in and spend time in the game? What mechanics can only be achived by being live?

Well, first you have to buy developments with your experience, and you have to be online to do it. Next, to see what those advancements do, you actually have to do stuff in the game.  You have to be in the game to use your new spell on a mob, or to create a new piece of equipment, or to see what that new dance emote does.

Outside of just seeing the new effects, abilities, and gear, there's also exploring the game - just seeing what there is to see. There is interacting with others in a non-pressurized online game environment. There is of course "showing off" one's new abilities, characteristics and talents or acquisitions. Then there is fighting mobs, and performing tasks.

In this game, fighting a mob doesn't gain any experience, but it does gain loot.  Mobs can drop resources that can be used, or cash. Mobs - any mob - have a chance to randomly drop rare rewards, even up to the best in the game (currently, anyway).  There is no level-check system; an easily-killed bunny could theoretically drop a top level Axe of Doom (which happened to be half-buried where you killed the rabbit, to preserve RP).  Different kinds of rare loot would have different drop percentages, so getting something like that would be extremely rare.

This kind of drop presents the character with a strategic dilemma; do they change their character development strategy to eventually meet the stat requirements of their newfound Axe of Doom? If you can't wield it without X strength and Y training in axes and Z understanding of Necromancy ... do you change your goals to accomodate this new treasure? Or do you just sell it? Or trade it? Or do you break it down to constituent parts and materials?

The other thing one can do online are tasks and quests, which can provide some extra cash and resources, but are mainly used to advance character development storylines. This game will have many in-depth storylines that advance along with your choices and are driven by interaction with quest NPCs. These character development storylines change how the NPCs and other aspects of the game interact with your character.

For instance, one of the advancment avenues is "profession", which is how a character earns in-game money and rewards while offline.  If they pursue a professional path that takes them to being a diplomat, then at some point they are given a diplomatic residence in the province they are assigned. Further development via quests and advancment might gain one the opporutnity to acquire an assistant, and body-guards, and get discounts at the market, or have access to various parts of the city that others do not, or be able to commit certain crimes and not be thrown in prison (even if it lowers one's reputation in that province). One might become very influential and rise to being an advisor to the king and be able to arrange certain benefits for other players - such as a wedding celebration venue replete with full waitstaff, fireworks, stage, settings, furniture, etc.  Or, they might be able to get housing or trade privileges for family or guild, or have access to historical or official documentation that become quests they can offer other players.

Similar storylines can be worked out for other avenues of progression which are "told" via interactions with NPCs via tasks and quests.

The lure of random, strategy-changing rare drops, gaining extra resources and in-game cash, and pursuing character development storylines and unlockable content via quest chains - as well as just exploring the game locations, mobs, graphics, etc. and interacting with others in a non-pressurized system - provides adequate motivation to log in and enjoy the game.

Next: It's the ECONOMY, Stupid.

The Character Development System

Posted by Meleagar Saturday July 18 2009 at 5:03PM
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In my last entry, we introduced the 24/7 experience advancement character development system.  The tmajor attractions of 24/7 advancement are:  it levels the playing field between all kinds of players, no matter how casual; it gives even the most casual player a sense of getting as much for their money as anyone else; since one can gain experience even while offline, the game doesn't promote unhealthy gaming habits nor does it compete with other games for the player's time; and one one plays when they want to, and does what they want to in game. The game changes from "need" to play, to "want" to play.

The concept of this game is strategic character development. As the character accrues experience, the player can spend that experience on character development.  let's say that the character gains 10xp for every minute in the game. After 10 minutes, they have 100xp.  They can open up their development menu and decide where to start applying their experience.

The thing to understand here is that nothing about the character - no trait, no skill, no ability. no talent - goes up on its own; the player is the one that makes all the decisions. 

Let's say that it takes 10 exp to move your health from the current value of 25 to 30 and 10 xp to move your strength up from 10 to 11. Let's say that for 10 exp you can gain basic training in edged blades (or other types of weapons), and for 10 exp you can gain basic training in mysticism (one branch of spellcasting).

Now let's say it takes 20 exp to move from 30 to 35 health. amd 30 to move from 35 to 50.  Also, it takes 10 exp to gain basic instruction in swimming, or jumping, or climbing, or safe falling. It also takes 10 exp to get basic instruction in any of the crafting skills. Or you can gain basic training in one of many employment skills which earn you money (and other rewards) over time.

10 exp to open up any one of the four element spellcasting lines, or necromancy, or utility spells, or clerical spells, druidism, etc. Perhaps the next step down any particular line is 20 exp, or maybe somthing like increased agility costs 50 exp to move it one point.  Moving from a simple bow to compound bows might require 200 exp on down the road. 

When the player opens up their development interface, they can see the entire tree and exp cost (both individually and accumulatively) for any talent, skill, ability, or specialization in the entire tree, plus a complete descrption of what each does, so they can strategically develop their character and make plans on how to distribute their exp purchases.

The player can pick and choose any combination of skills, abilities, talents and professions, stat increases and character trait developments they wish to buy with their available experience, able to forge an entirely customized character.   You can see the incredible diversity and potential for lateral development of completely unique characters in this kind of system.  Also, there is no distinct level system here; the player is free to advance any particular aspect of their character however far they wish.

Yes, this will result in a game that does not have class or character balance, and cannot be tuned for any "end game" combat scenario; that's because this game is not class balanced, it is not character balanced, and it has no 'end game" combat scenario.  It isn't balanced for PvP or any particular battle scenario.  Players will be able to individually solo anything in the game eventually, because the longer one subscribes, the more powerful their character will become.

Similarly, developers will be free to add any game content they wish, including very powerful foes, without worrying about fine-tuning the combat scenarios, because there will be no way to account for how players might have developed their characters and then may be teaming up. 

In an end-game oriented MMOG, characters "advance" towards class and power positions that are carefully limited in order to be balanced and tuned for end game battle instances. This results in boring, cookie-cutter characters that must fufill certain pre-defined roles and certain ranges of power. In this game, all battle considerations are secondary to the main goal of unlimited 24/7 character development and letting the players strategically build their characters however they wish over time - even into charcters with god-like powers.

 Next: Why Spend Time Online If The Character Advances 24/7 Anyway?

The 24/7 Advancement System

Posted by Meleagar Friday July 17 2009 at 7:59AM
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The key concept behind my proposed MMO Character Development Strategy Game is the 24/7 experience-gain system.  These worlds are persistent - they go on 24/7; why should the character we are role-playing through be limited in that world to whatever we can achieve in terms of how much time we have to actively play them?

We've all played strategy games, like Civilization, or Sim City, or Sins of a Solar Empire, where your strategic commands are being carried out whether you are at the keyboard or in the next room getting a cup of coffee.  The MMOCDSG game will be like this; your character (while not necessarily an observable presence in the game) will always be "doing" something, whether you are around or not.

We'll call the experience-gain rate "X".  Every character upon creation begins gaining experience at X rate; players that are created later gain experience at X+15% [Edit: or more] until they catch up. This means that generally every character is developing at the same rate, whether solo or grouper, casual or hardcore. This creates a generally level playing field for character development.

The argument might be raised that "the game plays itself" or "you don't need to actually play the game", but that perspective is from the MMOG model most such games currently utilize.  Yes, the fact is that no, you don't "need" to play the game (being present in the game) other than at some point distributing character development points; the game is designed to remove "need", and to replace it with "want".  The content of the game will be compelling, interesting and attractive so that people will want to be in the game, not need to in order to advance their characters or compete.

You only enter the game when you want to have fun doing the things you want to do in the game; it isn't "need" driven.  There is no need to grind for anything, no need to group, no need to raid; there isn't even a need to kill mobs for money or items.   Your character gains experience 24/7 as a basic game feature, and part of that experience can be spent gaining character abilities that bring in a steady flow of in-game money and rewards.

When your character enters the game, you will see how much experience it has gained.  It will be an ongoing accumulation, like a digital bank account accruing interest.  You can then open your development interface and decide where to invest the experience.  You use experience to buy advancements in any area; if you spend all your experience it goes down to zero and from there continues moving back up as time goes by. In any particular development tree, lower level advancements cost less experience than higher-level advancements. 

The advantage to this kind of game is that it doesn't promote unhealthy amounts of at-the-keyboard playing time and developers can absolutely control the rate of all character development; and, by setting the particular talent-tree skills at certain experience values, they can control how fast (in real time) anyone can move down any particular skill or talent tree, or how fast they can accumulate higher character stats like health or mana. 

Also, players can feel free to play alts, because any time spent playing an alt doesn't significantly affect any other character they have; in fact, they can feel free to play any other game they want along with our MMOCDSG. Our MMOCDSG wouldn't even compete against other games for player time.

Next: The "No End Game" Concept: Character Development vs Character Advancement

The Concept: Massively Multiplayer Online Character Development Game

Posted by Meleagar Thursday July 16 2009 at 6:19PM
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Hi. Over the next few weeks I'm going to lay out what I think would be the perfect casual & soloer MMOG. First and foremost, the concept of the game revolves around character development; wide-open, no-limits, no-cardboard-cut-out, no-template, no-end-game-dependant do-what-you-want character development.

The player will start a character from scratch and not only fully customize the look of their avatar, but their main stats and characteristics, emotes and, over time, their abilities, gear, animations, fame, wealth - everything.  Everything their character is, or becomes, will be under the direct strategic control of the player. Yes, they will have to make decisions about what to develop, for how long, and how far, before developing or pursuing something else, but no class, race, end-game or "balance" considerations will prevent them from developing their character however they wish.

The player will have the complete freedom to develop their character however they wish over time.

And all of this development will be attainable  by any player whether casual or hardcore, soloer or raider, eventually, over the life of their character. 

NEXT:  The 24/7 Advancement System